Fabien Cousteau's Proteus will be an underwater ISS
It's been a big week for inventions named for the shape-shifting, fortune-telling Greek sea god, Proteus. On Monday we looked at Proteus, the world's first manufactured non-cuttable material, and now there's Proteus, the world’s most advanced underwater research station and habitat – though in this case the naming is probably more to do with Proteus' status as the grandson of Poseidon himself.
Fabien Cousteau knows a thing or two about being descended from sea gods. His grandfather Jacques made the family name synonymous with the ocean through a series of hugely popular and influential books, films and TV shows – not to mention being the co-inventor of the scuba underwater breathing device, getting divers out of diving bells to really immerse themselves in the underwater world. If any man could hold Poseidon's mighty trident as the human equivalent of a sea god, Jacques Cousteau fits the bill.
Young Fabien, now 52, has very much carried on the family business. Learning to scuba dive at the age of four, he's gone on to be one of this generations highest-profile ocean conservationists and documentary makers. Last time we caught up with him back in 2013, he was preparing for a month-long research mission in the Aquarius Reef Base 62 feet under the surface off the Florida Keys.
He can't have been satisfied with his accommodations, because now, with the help of industrial designer Yves Behar, he's planning to build the largest underwater lab on the planet. His grandad, of course, had a few cracks at the idea himself. Jacques Cousteau's Conshelf 1, 2 and 3 were, respectively, the first underwater habitat to be lived in, the first live-in sea floor laboratory, and the first underwater habitat more than 100 meters (330 feet) below the surface.
Fabien Cousteau's ambitious project Proteus will be more than three times the size of any previous attempt, capable of housing up to twelve intrepid oceanographic types at a time. It's a spiraling double-decker design on stilts that adapt to the shifting sea floor, entirely powered by wind and solar energy from the surface, as well as ocean thermal energy conversion.
A series of pods poking out from the main area will serve as bedrooms, labs, medical bays, life support system housings and storage areas. The biggest of these pods will be the "moon pool," or "wet porch" – a big downward-facing hole, which will act as a dock for submersibles, allowing divers to enter the station. There will also be the world's first underwater veggie garden, and facilities for video production.
If all goes well – funding is still in the pipeline, according to this CNN interview, and this is not an insignificant project to finance – the Proteus habitat will sit 60 feet under the surface off the coast of the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao. Divers and researchers will be able to stay there for weeks at a time, taking advantage of the fact that they can work day in and day out without having to undergo the long process of decompression every time they come up.
Much like an undersea International Space Station, Cousteau hopes to do regular live streams, as well as releasing VR/AR content that can help spread the word about an area of research he sees as much more important to the future of our species than space research.
It also looks super cool to us – at least, before it's been under for a decade or two and becomes festooned with barnacles, a phrase which brings me disproportionate levels of joy to say out loud. Give it a try.